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March 8 - 21, 2021

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Sweet 16: Upset Sends Anisimova Into Round of 16

Amanda Anisimova

by Melissa Isaacson

The advantage of being 16 years old is that you don’t always feel the pressure of the moment, like playing a two-time Wimbledon champion on a tournament’s showcase court. A seemingly endless reservoir of energy is a bonus.

And it helps when you’re crazy-talented as is American Amanda Anisimova, yet another young female wild card to make major waves at the BNP Paribas Open, mowing down No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova on Sunday, 6-2, 6-4 in, a crisp one hour, 10 minutes.

With the victory, Anisimova became the first 16-year-old to move into the fourth round here since Viktoriya Kutuzova in 2005.

“It feels crazy. I mean, I’m still in shock,” Anisimova said. “She’s the best player I have ever played, and it was the biggest court I have ever played on. So it was definitely nerve-wracking kind of, but I was enjoying it so much out there and I was playing my best. It was a good day.”

In other third-round results, No. 1 Simona Halep held off a valiant effort by 19-year-old wild card Caroline Dolehide 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 Petra Martic upset No. 6 seed Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-3; No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova defeated Shuai Zhang 7-5, 5-7, 6-3; No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber got past Ekaterina Makarova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2; Qiang Wang upset No. 14 Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2; and in a second-round match re-scheduled because of rain Saturday night, No. 13 seed Sloane Stephens won her first career match over Victoria Azarenka  6-1, 7-5.

In the evening session, California hope CoCo Vandeweghe fell in straight sets to Maria Sakkari of Greece, 6-2, 6-4 on Stadium 2. Vandeweghe has still failed to make the fourth round in her career in Indian Wells. Naomi Osaka, meanwhile, closed out the night with a 6-3, 6-3 triumph over another American, Sachia Vickery, who had taken out Garbiñe Muguruza in the previous round. Sakkari and Osaka will meet in the fourth round.

A two-time Grand Slam champ and two-time winner here, Azarenka received a wildcard in her 10th BNP Paribas Open and her first tournament since the fourth round of Wimbledon last summer, when she left to deal with issues surrounding a custody battle over her then seven-month old son Leo.

The former World No. 1 looked impressive in her first-round win Thursday, saving seven break points in one game against Heather Watson. Against Stephens, she had surrendered just five games in each of three previous match victories. But Sunday, Azarenka was out of sorts from early on.

“That was not the most pleasant moment, to be honest,” Azarenka. “I felt like I started the first game well, and then kind of everything just went away. I started to make so many mistakes and quick, I kind of didn’t know what I was doing out there.

“I found a little bit better rhythm in the second set, found a little bit more fight. But just really low quality consistency from me today, and it’s tough to win matches like this.”

Stephens, the reigning US Open champ who was eliminated in the first round of the 2018 Australian Open but coming off a quarterfinal finish in Puerto Rico, said she was determined to play well here. “I was super-focused, playing my game and just executing,” she said.

Six months ago, Anisimova won the junior girls US Open against a 13-year-old. Sunday, it was a two-time Wimbledon champ on the other side of the net.

“I have no pressure going onto the court, and all I can think about is having fun, whatever happens,” she said. “That’s definitely an advantage.”

Down 3-1 in the second set, Anisimova won the next four games with two service breaks to serve for the match. Not so fast, said the No. 9 seed, breaking back to 5-4 to get back on serve, but the unflappable 5-foot-11 teenager simply broke back to win the match.

“I was enjoying the moment, but at the same time, I was trying not to, like, make myself nervous because of the huge crowd, and everything, and the big stage,” she said.

Kvitova, who missed last year’s tournament while still recovering from a hand injury incurred in a knife attack, was coming off a grueling three-hour, 17-minute second-round victory over Yulia Putintseva. The match included tiebreaks in the first and second sets, and had one 18-minute game for the 28-year-old’s 14th straight match win, but it wasn’t pretty, with 66 winners off-setting 78 unforced errors.

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